Free To Run

A fascinating article on offered a number of reasons why a racehorse might be helped rather than hindered by being forced to race wide on the track. It’s able to make its own pace – it can adjust to what the others do – it’s not subject to interference – and so on.

Dogs are similar but different and we had a classic example the other day.

My Bro Fabio had roared around the tricky Canberra first turn to take out its heat in record time and then run away with the Cup final. It railed all the way, both times after a good jump from an inside box.

A little later – Sandown R8 25 Sep – it came out of box 8 moderately but then progressively rounded up a good field, always in the middle of the track, until hitting the lead on the home turn. It then ran away from them to win by 7 lengths in a near record 29.09 – a PB for this dog. It simply kept pouring on the power all the way to the post, even though it had covered much more ground than the opposition.

These were two different sorts of runs but in both cases the dog was free to do what it wanted to do. There was no restriction on its galloping capability. That degree of freedom had greater effect than the extra distance covered at Sandown. (For comparison, Sandown has turns of 50m radius but My Bro Fabio effectively ran at least 3m out. Were both runs around a perfect circle the distance covered would be 5.7% greater).

Horse or dog – they both like to do that. Alternatively, in both codes, many runners do not like to be crowded. That’s a head problem, not a physical one, but it is real and in some cases it is vital to the result.

The related point is that the layout of a track should encourage dogs to do their thing, wherever possible, but also try to keep them apart. This is why Albion Park and The Meadows (amongst others) are deficient as their configuration forces the field to come together on the first turn, thereby giving the advantage to either a clear leader or to a very lucky dog that gets through unscathed.

This is not to say that other circle tracks are good, only that their problems are different.

Track design is a science but it is treated like guesswork. No doubt Logan in Queensland or the new Cannington track in WA will be the same as nobody has ever bothered to do the necessary investigation and analysis prior to finalising the design. For example, horses often start in shutes while dogs never do. Why not?

Giving our top dogs – or any dog – an even chance is critical to the success of the industry. Indeed it is the starting principle for any race as well as the means to the end of better publicising the code. We need more of it and we need to do it better.

Anyway, aside from the top dogs, how many average ones would be better performers were they to miss the bash and barge that some strike at the start of their career?


Having just read yet another media release in a long series about drug penalties applied by various state authorities I am little wiser than I was before. Or not until I read up about it on the web. Even then 99% of us are still left guessing.

The latest case happened to concern the Ennis family, Warrior King and Dream It, and the drug Meloxicam, but it could have been any one of a hundred other cases.

The first hassle is that these reports are all couched in legalese or bureaucratese, presumably with the intention of avoiding subsequent legal challenges. But they also fail to inform. You could change the name of the offender or the drug and use the same statement over and over again.

Second, actual details are seldom offered; how much was given; when and why; was it prescribed; if so, what was the veterinary advice; what if any health problems were involved. Failing that information, even knowledgeable trainers would be none the wiser.

Third, is the established ban fully justified? What is the effect of the drug on the dog generally, and specifically how does it affect its ability to compete? Is the size or the recency of the dose relevant? If so, how relevant?

Fourth, why is it relevant that the offender had a previously good record? It is understandable that repeat offenders might warrant harsher treatment but why should first offenders get a penalty which is decided subjectively by “judges” (ie the stewards) who have no legal training.

For comparison, here are statements by experts about Meloxicam, culled from several internet sources.

For humans:

“Meloxicam is in a group of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Meloxicam works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body. Meloxicam is used to treat pain or inflammation caused by arthritis.”

For dogs:

“Meloxicam is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) prescription medication used to reduce pain, inflammation, and stiffness as a result of acute and chronic musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoarthritis”.

So, am I any the wiser? No.

The drug may well fall into a category that is harmful to the conduct of the industry but it is not obvious from those descriptions. The dog apparently has an arthritic-like condition which justifies use of a drug. That would seemingly come under the heading of animal welfare, of which much is made these days.

As a longstanding, reasonably educated and experienced member of the industry, but not a trainer or a chemist, this sort of thing makes no sense to me. It should. It would make even less sense to an average member of the public. Right or wrong, it is the responsibility of people in charge to tell us what they are doing, and why, in language we can understand.

Authorities might note that it is illegal now for insurance companies or banks to provide policies written in gobbledygook. Plain English is mandatory. That is the community standard. Leave the legalese to the police.